Keeping a safe distance because it is safer for everyone during a pandemic also carries a personal payoff.
A new study finds that social distancing reduces your individual risk of contracting COVID-19.
“The evidence from our work indicates there is value in socially distancing — not only to reduce the spread of a virus within a community, but because it is actually beneficial for the individual engaging in the social distancing,” said senior author Russell Fazio, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University. “There’s a selfish notion to it all: ‘Hey, it’s good for me personally. I’m not just benefiting other people.'”
For the study, Fazio and colleagues asked nearly 1,900 Americans how they would situate themselves or others in various public settings based on their social distancing inclinations. They were shown 10 virtual scenarios.
Four focused on walking routes participants would take along a street, a park path, in a library with people around, and which seat they would choose in a coffee shop.
In six scenarios, participants were asked to show how much distance they would want between themselves and friends, grocery shoppers, a passing stranger or people standing in line. They were also asked to draw the path they would take crossing a crowded plaza and where they would place their towel on a crowded beach.
Four months later, participants were asked if they had tested positive for the new coronavirus (199 said yes) or if they believed they’d been sick with COVID-19 (85 said yes).
Those who had shown a preference for social distancing were less likely to say they had had COVID-19, researchers found.
Their findings were published Feb. 4 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Fazio’s lab studies how personal beliefs and attitudes influence behavior. When lockdowns and stay-at-home orders were put in place due to COVID-19, Fazio’s team decided to learn more about social distancing behavior.
“The entire lab group came to view the pandemic as a call to action for behavioral scientists because this was ultimately a test of human behavior,” he said in a university news release. “Rarely does a whole society get called upon to change behavior.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on social distancing.
SOURCE: Ohio State University, news release, Feb. 5, 2021